Zeroing in on the boatschooling

One of the goals for January has been to finalize homeschooling supplies, and have them waiting tidily in a rubbermaid bin. Of course, the reality has been a bit messier, but we’re approaching a point where we could maybe check it off the list (for now).



We’ve gathered lots of free math materials over the past few years, but when it came down to deciding the best program for our family, we’re feeling like Beast Academy and The Art of Problem Solving will be the best choices. We’ll also be toting along the math curriculum for F.’s middle school, to make sure she’s not missing anything, as well as some Kumon books and the Key series for extra practice.

Literature is a big deal to us, and prepping for that aspect of the kids’ education will probably never be “done;” but while we’re in Wisconsin, we have access (free!) to a great resource called It’s a site that compiles teaching guides for different books. Our current process looks like this: find a likely-looking title of a book we feel is important (we’re sourcing from the staff at our middle school, the amazing CCBC lists, books that we remember loving, and librarian-friend recommendations); figure out if this is a book that’s either available for Kindle (free or not), free electronically from our public library, or a book we’re likely to want as a physical copy; see if a teaching guide is available from; download a guide; and order the book if necessary. Clearly, we could spend weeks doing this, and we will–but it’s important to us all.

Literacy and language arts is a bit of a different catagory–grammar, spelling, etc. We’ve got some workbooks, and have downloaded some additional spelling/vocabulary lists. We don’t expect to spend much time on this, but hey–it’s important to know what a gerund is. Our kids will also be keeping journals–the old-fashioned, pen-and-paper kind, not the bloggy kind.

Bin full of books

Bin full of books

As far as science goes, we expect there to be a lot of hands-on naturalist work, mostly because it’s fun, and we’re stocked up on guidebooks: fish, birds, reptiles, geology, shells–it’s taking up a lot of space, but we think it’ll be worth it. We’re packing along a few kid-centered books on astronomy (yea, dark skies!) and oceanography, plus some plans for science experiments and a microscope. Still debating about the heavy chemistry text.

Social studies and history will be location-dependent. We’re toting along some US-history-and-government books to prep for time in D.C., but after that we’ll be mostly discovering the history of where we’re visiting. So much of common core instruction in this country is focused on using non-fiction texts; and while we’ll be happily ignoring most common core standards, we will be relying on a lot of our lit to provide context and history for our location.

Learning Spanish is important to us. We all love Duolingo, but we don’t expect to have the internet capacity to keep it up. Instead, we’ve got the Rosetta Stone for homeschooling (thanks, Rebeca!), a few workbooks for the kids, and a wide range of dictionaries. Not sure how this will work out in real life, but at least we feel equipped.

Fiddlin' with friends

Fiddlin’ with friends

Music, it turns out, is a bit of a tough one for us. F is in her fourth year of violin, and third year of fiddle class, so we think she’s pretty well prepared to continue on her own for a bit. We’ll be bringing some sheet music, downloading some YouTube videos, and most likely be checking in occasionally with her teacher via Skype. T, on the other hand, is in year three of cello. Oh my lord, the cello. F already owns a neatly-contained violin, but purchasing and storing (and tuning) a cello is proving to be a bit of a hurdle. T is also not as far along in his musical education, so going it alone is going to be tough. We’ve tried steering him towards the ukulele, but he’s not having it. I guess our current plan is to attempt the same type of program as our violinist, and not worry too much if it all falls apart.

Then there’s the category of general resources. We’re learning how to use Kahn Academy Lite, and will be checking if we can put all of Kiwix on the kids’ Chromebook. We are HUGE fans of Crash Course, and we’re debating about the old-school WorldBook encyclopedia that we have…hopefully there will be room aboard!

So, internet community–what do you think? Any gaping holes? Any books we should absolutely be including? Weigh in!

Hard water

Ice skating on Lake Monona. The iceboats were cookin'.

Ice skating on Lake Monona. The iceboats were cookin’.

No Time to Hibernate

Last weekend I made a social visit to the Twin Cities. A good friend mentioned that the nice part about Midwestern single-digit temperatures is that it gives me time off from working on the boat. If only that were true.

The cold merely slows things down; the main thing it slows down is me. I run out to my unheated garage to make a couple of quick cuts on the table saw, then maybe get set up for running the router before I get too cold. I don’t mind setting things up when I am cold, but I like my hands to be nice and warm when I am running power tools.

Winter does prevent things like epoxy, caulk, paint and varnish from setting up. However, you can get some amazing things done with a portable heater. Other projects will have to wait until we have overnight lows in the 40’s–although I can have them all set up to go, so that when the temperature is right: *Boom* three new through-hulls caulked into place.

While it is true that I work less on the boat, I can still do a lot of boat work, primarily in the basement.



Initial layout.


Basement epoxy work.





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Autopilot tiller arm

Epoxied in place.

Epoxied in place.


Tiller arm bolted to rudder post

I fabricated this board in the basement. I made it to stiffen up the bulkhead, and added a fancy stand-off to correctly locate the fixed end of the steering ram. There can be a lot of force transmitted from the rudder to the steering ram. If one end of the ram tears off the wall, it is not good. I brought a little portable heater to the boat to heat up the engine compartment, the epoxy and the board. Once it was all good and warm, I epoxied the whole thing to the existing bulkhead and tabbed it in place. The autopilot tiller arm bolted directly on to the rudder post. It turns out you can still drill holes and tighten bolts in weather well below zero.

Steering ram in place.

Steering ram installed.

Next trip to the boat: mount the autopilot computer and heading sensor; mount the new steering stop; maybe do some wiring (if I have the time and am not too frozen).






Port side storage:

Milou is a little lacking when it comes to easy-access storage. I am converting the port pilot berth in the saloon to storage. I am making the whole thing in the basement; then I’ll bring it to the boat and screw it in place. Who am I kidding–the parts have all been back and forth a couple of times already for fitting.


Initial layout.


Fitting. It is very cold here.




Basement glue job.


Shelf: final shape plus 3 coats of cetol finish




Next trip to the boat: bring the top shelf to the boat and leave it there (it’s done); final fitting of cabinet dividers; also, grab a door from the starboard side, so I can match up the finger-pull placement on the new port-side doors in the basement.

Electrical panel:

I have friends with a used cruising boat; they too have removed many pounds of wiring that leads to nowhere. From time to time, I need to get behind my electrical panel to wire in something new (like a new refrigerator or masthead light). The way things are right now, I have to remove a tricky shelf to give myself access to a 4-inch-wide gap behind the electrical panel, filled with a very confusing rats’ nest of wires.

The board under the Book-of-Lists, that is the new door for the electrical panel.

The board under the Book-of-Lists is the new door for the electrical panel.

I had one experience where all of the house lights stopped working. After checking switches and batteries, I determined that a wire had come loose. Reaching into the rats’ nest for the offending DC wire, I managed to find and electrocute myself on 110v AC. It sucked. I plan to replace the DC rats’ nest with a new panel. Because there are already holes in the wooden panel, I’m going to make a door to hold the breakers and gauges that hinges open so that I can organize and have easy access to the wiring.

Next trip to the boat: remove AC panel; cut out panel area; fit new door; bring door home to fit panels; and lay out gauges.


The refrig project is pretty much on hold. There are still insulating panels for the forward and aft walls of the ice box that need to be fabricated, and I need to finish up the lid. That is all basement work. Once I have them done I will need some warmth to glue them in place. Also there is a big hole in the bottom of the boat, for the new combination galley sink through-hull/keel cooler.


Something should be plugging this hole.


Two more sides of the box to cover.

Next trip to the boat: nothing for the refrigerator.



Hope I can fit the solar charge controller on the wall next to the yellow 40 amp battery charger. Why yes, I did make that very nice aluminum backing plate with square holes for carriage bolts, in order to through bolt to the autopilot ram bracket (going for bombproof).


Once the port-side storage is out of the basement, I’ll have room to lay out the panels and get them set up on their mounts. Before then, I need to place the MPPT charge controller somewhere. I’d like to put it in the engine room but I may be out of space after the autopilot stuff is all installed.

Next trip to boat: spec placement of Solar charge controller.

Dashboard/Instrument pod:

Currently our navigation is done by iPad. The thing works pretty darn well.  Because I am a novice (nervous?) navigator, I also plot on a paper chart at the nav station (even when in sight of the Wisconsin shore). And I have OpenCPN on this here computer, but have yet to use it in real life. The problem with the iPad is that it does not have a home in the cockpit, so it can kind of “bounce” around. I decided that I needed a place to park it. I also need a home for the autopilot control head and the new fish finder/depth sounder display; also, the anchor windlass controls, USB charge port, a 12V outlet (for handheld spotlight), and the new alternator “on” switch. I am building a dashboard, but I am not sure if I like how it fits.


Glueing curves.

Basement. Glueing curves.

Starting to make a box.

Starting to make a box. Cold at the table saw.






Eyeballing placement. Does it stick up to high?

Side view.

Side view.

I am going to try and lower the whole box, so it is less obstructive to our sight lines when driving the boat. That means I may just cut off and throw away my cool curved wooden bracket. We’ll see.

Next trip up to the boat: bring up binnacle compass; see if I can lower instrument pod without interfering with the compass.

It is probably my training as a nurse, but I like to write and think about the boat in a system-by-system manner (hence, the four part electricity series). The reality is that getting Milou ready is a lot more messy. I am constantly juggling at least four or five projects at once, even when it is cold outside. Every now and then I catch myself thinking, “If we put the trip off another year… I could get everything perfectly done…then just give Milou a buff in the spring before we head out.” The reality is, I will never be done, and owning a boat that you do not live on is expensive. Every extra year on shore takes money out of the bank, and keeps us from the goal of getting out there. So: June 12th is the deadline. Milou will be floating, most of the projects will be done. The rest we’ll have to attack while we travel.


Telling everyone

We like you very much but...we won't be sending you a card next year! Our family plans to spend two years traveling on our Beneteau Frist 38 sailboat. Postage from the Bahamas costs too much! Follow our trip at Be sure to sign up for our email updates (and keep us out of your spam folder)! Happy holidays from all of us!

That was the salvo we included in our holiday cards this year, sent out to friends and family across the nation this December. If they didn’t know about the trip already, they know now.

We’ve heard advice from many different quarters to keep the planning stages  under our hats, but we’ve been spectacularly bad at keeping quiet. We have so many friends who are sailors, friends who homeschool, friends who travel or have lived abroad; we weren’t too worried about the reactions we’d find close to home. For the most part, we’ve been correct: people are almost universally jazzed, and think it will be a great learning opportunity for our kids.

Putting our plan out into the larger universe of People We Know was a bit more disconcerting, but we figured it had to be done. We really don’t want to send those holiday cards out next year. We’re not completely sure how the rest of our far-flung family is taking it; we’ve heard some solid support, some reasonable concerns, and plenty of fair questions from the non-sailors in our lives. We haven’t heard from too many nay-sayers; I assume they’re either keeping it to themselves, or giving my mom a sympathetic earful.

The one thing we’ve heard most consistently from the out-of-towners is, “I could never do that.” They have lots of reasons–money, discomfort with uncertainty, a job that’s difficult to walk away from, attachment to their surroundings, family needs. Mostly, their priorities are around security, which is totally fair and understandable. It’s just…it’s been a funny and striking contrast to many of our nearest and dearest here in Madison–folks who hear about our goals and start thinking about their own plans, ways to do extraordinary things with their own growing kids, travels that can be taken before the high school years hit.

There are two sides to this coin–on the one side, building a stable life within your community; on the other, exploring the wider world. And while there are plenty of concrete things we hope our kids learn on the trip–how to identify reef fish, Spanish, how to tell where the chicken bus is going–we also want to show them the flip side often hidden from American middle-class life. Instead of saying, “I could never…” when they grow up, maybe instead they’ll say “Why not?”

Who wouldn't want to spend their time living here?

Who wouldn’t want to spend their time living here?


Temps are about to drop back into single-digit highs around here, and we are deep in a week of paperwork. A grim situation all-around. A sample of what we’re working through:

Banking. No fewer than three separate cues came at me this week, reminding me to open a Schwab high-yield checking account, with unlimited free ATM withdrawal worldwide. We still plan to maintain a relationship and accounts with our local credit union, who coincidently holds our mortgage, but the Schwab account should allow us easy and convenient access to our cash.

Property management. Not a heck of a lot of folks are actually interested in managing our lone little property, but we have at least one company on the hook–despite their horror of the low price being charged to our current tenants downstairs. For a mere 6% of the rental income, we’ll be able to forget we even have tenants. If the toilet overflows and we are in Cuba, DO NOT CALL US!

Automatic bill paying. Copies of most of our bills will still have to make their way to our accountant next February, so she can pull off that depreciation-and-deduction magic that keeps our taxes so low; but the more we can pay online, the fewer people we’ll need to hire to push papers for us. It makes our Luddite hearts sad, but we’re heading to 100% online bill-paying.

Taxes. Need to schedule that appointment for this year, and make sure we know how to organize everything NOW so that we don’t have to deal with anything from the San Blas islands in Panama. We’ll have other things to do, ok?

Preliminary homeschool supplies. Thanks to budget cuts, our district recently closed their teacher's resource library; they opened up the contents to the public, and we scored big.

Preliminary homeschool supplies. Thanks to budget cuts, our district recently closed their teacher’s resource library; they opened up the contents to the public, and we scored big.

Homeschool. Getting input from various educational luminaries, and narrowing down what we expect to accomplish for our kids. Hopefully pulling the trigger on ordering books and supplies by the end of next week–we’ll let you know where we land.

Health stuff. Dental, orthodontic, vision, general check-ups and immunizations. We’re slowly checking off the list, but it’s quite a few appointments for quite a few people, and some things we can’t quite schedule yet. The UW Travel Clinic has recommended that we venture to Janesville for yellow fever vaccinations, since our insurance won’t cover any tropical vaccines that are not work-related; Rock County Public Health offers the cheapest vaccines, but it will still cost our family over $500 for yellow fever and typhoid. Guess what we’re doing over spring break, kids?

More free books from the district. That should be enough math stuff, right?

More free books from the district. That should be enough math stuff, right?

Passports. Another sneaky expense–over $500 again, if you include the cost of the photos–but much more exciting than a painful shot in the arm.

Insurance. We won’t really be exploring our health insurance options until Michu gives notice; the hospital where he works has experts in the minutia of the ACA, and we need to know costs and coverage of COBRA before we make any decisions, but there’s still plenty to keep us busy on the insurance front. The boat insurance has been renewed, but will have to be changed once we exit the Erie Canal; car insurance will need to be cancelled in five short months; and our homeowner’s insurance will need to be changed to some kind of commercial policy (for which we’ll also need to estimate the total value of what we’re storing in our attic and basement while we’re away. Spoiler alert: not much. Except for the value of all the kid art, which is of course priceless).

Voting. Yeah, we won’t be around for the general election. Absentee balloting in Wisconsin has only gotten more difficult in the last four years. Our current plan is to have my cousin FedEx us a couple of absentee ballots to a marina when they become available. Anyone know why that might not work?

Document organization. Once we’ve procured/updated/amended everything under the sun, it needs to be virtually reproduced and archived, and also physically contained in an organized and official-looking manner–including but not limited to marriage license, birth certificates, passports, name-change documents, immunization records, boat registration, and notarized papers allowing one or both of our children to travel with only one parent. We hear Central American officials are impressed with embossers and official boat stamps….must add that to the list……

Renew library cards. Our library cards are good for three years, and will allow us to download ebooks to all of our kindles, so we want to make sure they don’t expire. We plan on checking this off the list in late May, but I include it here because it represents so perfectly my state of mind. We go to the library two or three times a week–I can see the building from my living room right now–and every trip, in my head, prompts the mantra: “don’t forget to renew the library cards, don’t forget to renew the library cards.” There’s just so much to do; but the small, important, unobtainable tasks repeat relentlessly. Maybe by writing it down I can exorcise it from my brain.

Media. The name of the game here is compression. Pull the dvd’s and cd’s from those horrible plastic cases, cull the duds, insert into binder; better yet, burn to an external hard drive. Copy out the top five recipes from most of these cookbooks; only one or two books can make it on the boat. Organize the online photos, so that not all is chaos when we start dumping 300 pictures of parrotfish into the cloud every day. Stare at bookshelf, realize I WILL NOT read anything on it in the next five months, stick it all in a box in the attic. Except the Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I am totally going to read that on the boat. (Resolve to digitally download the important Shakespeare before boxing up the Works. Public domain, right? And all the Dickens? And Twain? Resolve to spend some time organizing the digital book collection before things get out of control.)

Clearly we won’t be getting through everything this week, but we’ve made a solid start, and at least have an action plan for all of these areas begging to be tidied up. And at least most of it can be accomplished with a steaming pot of tea.

Teapot: 100% coming on the boat

Teapot: 100% coming on the boat